Can wearable technologies help improve healthcare? 10K participants given free Fitbit devices for research program

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The All of Us research study is providing 10,000 Fitbit devices to select participants in hopes of learning how wearable technologies can accelerate precision medicine and better inform and improve healthcare.

Julia Moore Vogel, Ph.D. is the director of the program’s Participant Center at Scripps Research. She spoke with 8NewsNow Live Producer Rocky Nash to share their goal to learn more about how people engage with wearable devices. The data collected could empower future research on disease detection, prevention, and treatment.

The study is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) All of Us Research Program, an effort to engage 1 million people from across the U.S. in building one of the largest, most diverse health databases in history.

FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

Over the next several months, the program will provide 10,000 Fitbit devices at no cost to select study participants, who have engaged in other research activities, such as completing online surveys and agreeing to share electronic health records. The study started with a focus on 11 states, including Nevada.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The All of Us research study explores the relationship between physical activity, heart rate, sleep and other health metrics.

GOALS FOR THE PROGRAM

The program hopes to represent the entire population of the United States, which hasn’t happened in the past due to individuals with low socio-economic status being less likely to share this data if they can’t afford the Fitbit device. This study removes that barrier for participants.

According to Dr. Vogel, the Fitbit data has already been used by Scripps Research to identify when someone has an infection before they have symptoms. They started focusing on the flu and realized they could spot outbreaks based on changes in heart rate and sleep gathered from Fitbit data.

“People will have changes in their Fitbit data before they even realize that they are sick,” said Dr. Vogel.

The program has been extended for early discovery of COVID-19 symptoms in relation to Fitbit data collected from the wearer over a longer period of time.

HOW THE DATABASE WILL HELP RESEARCHERS

The All of Us Research Program wants to give researchers more information to help them better understand why some people get sick and others stay healthy.

When researchers are able to find and access the information they need, the study says they can spend more time on what’s really important — using research to find answers and make discoveries.

According to Dr. Vogel, there are hundreds of research studies going in what is called a Researcher Workbench. That is live now, but the goal of this study is to democratize how research is done so researchers don’t have to spend years getting funding, enrolling individuals in a specific disease study and then collect data and organize it.

“As a former researcher myself, this is basically the database of my dreams,” added Dr. Vogel.

With All of Us, the research is done upfront. A researcher can log into the portal and all the data collected from a diverse population is organized with a variety of diseases that they can ask questions about — hopefully expediting health breakthroughs.

HOW TO JOIN THE PROGRAM

Eligible adults over 18, living anywhere in the United States can join the program.

When an individual signs up for the broader research study, they are asked to complete initial surveys that request demographic information, electronic health records, and discuss the option to receive genomic information.

This data could reveal ancestry, diseases a person may be predisposed for and even medications that may or may not work for them. After completing several research activities, if eligible, and only then would a participant be invited to the Fitbit study.

Participants invited for the Fitbit study receive the device for free. There is no stipend unless a participant chooses to come in for a blood draw that could fuel deeper research. According to Dr. Vogel, those participants would receive a $25 gift card.

SAFETY OF PARTICIPANT INFORMATION

Dr. Vogel says the program uses the latest security standards, removing identifiable information or participants such as name, date of birth and address to make it difficult to tie back to a specific person.

Researchers go through ethics training and are also required not to seek out personal information of participants.

For more information on the All of Us research program and how you can participate, please visit joinallofus.org/wear

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